Regardless of whether you’re a bit of a grinch or get so excited about the festive season that you put your decorations up in November, chances are come Christmas Day you’ll be spending it with the people you love the most.
Exchanging gifts and overindulging in too much festive food with your nearest and dearest is pretty much how most of us will be spending the big day.
But for people who don’t have a family or loved ones, Christmas Day is often a time of year filled with dread.
The Lemn Sissay Foundation’s annual Christmas Dinners project aims to give all care leavers aged 18 to 25 a festive celebration they’ll never forget. At the age of 18, they are no longer the responsibility of the local authority and are often overlooked.
“Some might be given a council flat but that isn’t always the case,” says Mary McGuigan, a volunteer with the The Christmas Dinners project. “They’re often living in bedsits, on someone’s sofa or in B&Bs, struggling to make ends meet.
“Most of them talk about Christmas Day as the day of the year that they really dread. Everybody else is celebrating with their families and they don’t have a family and really don’t have anything to celebrate.
“They dread the lead up to Christmas, hate the day itself and as soon as it’s over they try to forget about it for another year. So that’s why we host the annual Christmas dinner, to try and break that pattern and give them something to look forward to.”
Set up in Manchester in 2013 with the intention that no care leaver should have to spend Christmas Day alone, the project is now taking place in over 17 different locations around the UK.
Each year, a group of volunteers in each area comes together to plan the event – everything from the venue, to presents, a chef, food, transport, games and activities – so young care leavers with no families can be given a Christmas Day to remember.
The itinerary for the day is pretty much the same. Each care leaver is picked up in a taxi, arriving at the venue at around 11.30am.
“There will be lots of different activities going on. Last year we had a pamper station for people to get done up for the day with hair and make-up. We’ve got a pool table, a ping pong table, indoor basketball, Playstations, craft tables and loads of other areas for people to get involved with various activities.”
At around midday, a three course Christmas dinner with turkey and all the trimmings is served.
“We try to make it as homely as possible, with cheesy Christmas tunes, crackers, hats, all your typical Christmas Day party favours. After dinner there’s loads more activities and lots of opportunities for them to socialise with each other.
At around 4pm, everyone gets their presents.
“We ask them if they could have a present up to £50 what would it be, so we get them each the individual present that they’ve asked for. Then we get them a bag of stocking fillers with the usual Christmas gifts, socks, slippers, books, stuff for their homes, chocolates etc.”
At 5.30pm, they are then picked up in taxis and taken home, with all guests leaving with a hamper full of food and goodies so they can carry on the festive fun with some Christmas treats.
Mary told us that it’s an amazing project to be part of and talking to the care leavers on the day makes it all worthwhile.
“There’s some beautiful stories that come from the event and it’s just an amazing day to spend it with all of these people who don’t have any family.
“Two of the people attending the Christmas dinner this year are Susie and her brother Alex. Last year they attended the event and it was their first Christmas ever spent together as they’ve both been in care all of their lives. It’s stories like this that are the reason why we do it.
“The whole spirit of the event is the community looking after the care leavers. We try and get people to donate presents and food for the day – as well as money towards our crowdfunding campaign.
This year’s event will see over 50 young people from around Greater Manchester meet up to celebrate Christmas together – and there’s nothing more heartwarming than people who don’t have a family of their own coming together to spend Christmas Day as part of one.
The Lemn Sissay Foundation is hoping to raise £30,000 to be shared out amongst each Christmas Dinners event happening around the UK and they’ve got just under £5,000 left to raise. You can contribute by clicking the button below.